Classic Podium: Our King says he can't carry on

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The Independent Culture
From a speech

in the House of Commons

by the Prime Minister,

Stanley Baldwin,

on the abdication of

King Edward VIII

(10 December 1936)

AN ADVISER to the Crown can be of no possible service to his master unless he tells him at all times the truth as he sees it, whether that truth be welcome or not. I told His Majesty that I had two great anxieties - one, the effect of a continuance of the kind of criticism that, at that time, was proceeding in the American press, the effect it would have in the Dominions, and particularly in Canada, where it was widespread, and the effect it would have in this country. And then I reminded him of what I had often told him in years past.

The British monarchy is a unique institution. The Crown in this country, through the centuries, has been deprived of many of its prerogatives, but today, while that is true, it stands for far more than it ever has done in its history. The importance of its integrity is, beyond all question, far greater than it has ever been, being as it is not only the last link of Empire that is left, but the guarantee in this country, so long as it exists in that integrity, against many evils that have affected and afflicted other countries. There is no man in this country, to whatever party he may belong, who would not subscribe to that.

But while this feeling largely depends on the respect that has grown up in the last three generations for the monarchy, it might not take so long, in face of the kind of criticisms to which it was being exposed, to lose that power far more rapidly than it was built up - and once lost I doubt if anything could restore it.

I saw the King on Monday, 16 November, and I began by giving him my view of a possible marriage. I told him that I did not think that a particular marriage was one that would receive the approbation of the country. That marriage would have involved the lady becoming Queen. I did tell His Majesty once that I might be a remnant of the old Victorians, but I did know what the reaction of the English people would be to any particular course of action, and I told him that, so far as they went, I was certain that it would be impracticable. I cannot go further into the details, but that was the substance.

I pointed out to him that the position of the King's wife was different from the position of the wife of any other citizen in the country; it was part of the price which the King has to pay. His wife becomes Queen; the Queen becomes the Queen of the country; and, therefore, in the choice of a Queen the voice of the people must be heard. It is the truth expressed in those lines that may come to your minds:

His will is not his own;

For he himself is subject to his birth;

He may not, as unvalued persons do,

Carve for himself; for on his choice

depends

The safety and the health of the

whole State.

Then His Majesty said to me that he wanted to tell me something that he had long wanted to tell me. He said, "I am going to marry Mrs Simpson, and I am prepared to go."

I said: "Sir this is most grievous news, and it is impossible for me to make any comment on it today." He told the Queen that night; he told the Duke of York and the Duke of Gloucester the next day; and for the rest of the week, so far as I know, he was considering that point.

In the meantime, a suggestion had been made to me that a possible compromise might be arranged. The compromise was that the King should marry, that Parliament should pass an Act enabling the lady to be the King's wife without the position of Queen.

I gave him the reply that I was afraid it was impracticable. He took my answer with no question, and he never referred to it again.

The King has told us that he cannot carry, and does not see his way to carry, these almost intolerable burdens of kingship without a woman at his side, and we know that. This crisis, if I may use the word, has arisen now rather than later from that very frankness of His Majesty's character, which is one of his many attractions. My efforts during these last days have been directed, as have the efforts of those most closely round him, in trying to help him to make the choice which he has not made; and we have failed.

We have, as the guardians of democracy in this little island, to see that we work to maintain the integrity of democracy and of the monarchy, which is now the sole link of our whole Empire and the guardian of our freedom.

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